Heartbleed Flaw Affects Hardware, Too

It now appears that the "Heartbleed" security problem affects not just Web sites, but also the networking equipment that connects homes and businesses to the Internet.

A defect in the security technology used by many Web sites and equipment makers have put millions of passwords, credit card numbers and other personal information at risk. The extent of the damage caused by Heartbleed isn't known. The threat went undetected for more than two years, and it's difficult to tell if any attacks resulted from it because they don't leave behind distinct footprints.

But now that the threat is public, there's a good chance hackers will try to exploit it before fixes are in place, says Mike Weber, vice president of the information-technology audit and compliance firm Coalfire.

Two of the biggest makers of networking equipment, Cisco and Juniper, have acknowledged that some of their products contain the bug, but experts warn that the problem may extend to other companies as well as a range of Internet-connected devices such as Blu-ray players.

"I think this is very concerning for many people," says Darren Hayes, professor of security and computer forensics at Pace University. "It's going to keep security professionals very busy over the coming weeks and months. Customers need to make sure they're getting the answers they need."

Here's a look at what consumers and businesses should know about Heartbleed and its effects on networking devices.

How is networking equipment affected?

Just like Web sites, the software used to run some networking equipment -- such as routers, switches and firewalls -- also uses the variant of SSL/TLS known as OpenSSL. OpenSSL is the set of tools that has the Heartbleed vulnerability.

As with a Web site, hackers could potentially use the bug as a way to breach a system and gather and steal passwords and other sensitive information.

What can you...

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